Records detail cardinal's failings in abuse scandal
Cardinal Roger Mahony will be deposed Saturday, then head to Rome to vote on next pope.
February 22nd, 2013
07:15 PM ET

Records detail cardinal's failings in abuse scandal

By Wayne Drash, CNN

(CNN) – Told by two families that a visiting priest was suspected of molesting their children in 1988, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles did not immediately notify police. Instead, Cardinal Roger Mahony’s right-hand man alerted the priest – a heads-up that allowed him to flee the country for Mexico.

He remained in the priesthood there for another 21 years, allegedly continuing to molest. He has denied the accusations and remains a fugitive.

Newly released church documents show the behind-the-scenes machinations of top officials within the Los Angeles archdiocese making decisions on how to deal with pedophile priests, hindering police investigations and saying, in private, something completely different than what they said in public.

Mahony, one of the most powerful men in the Catholic Church in America at the time, received constant updates on molesting priests and sometimes gave orders on how to deal with cases, including once telling subordinates to deny a police request for a list of altar boys. In at least one case, minute details like retirement benefits were discussed for an admitted molester.

On Saturday, Mahony faced a deposition, answering questions on his handling of the abuse scandal for the first time since the documents' release.

He will journey next to Rome to join the conclave to decide the next pope - a decision that has stirred controversy among advocates of abuse victims and many Catholics.

Anthony De Marco, an attorney who has spent decades representing abuse victims, said the newly released documents surprised even him, because they show “how frequently there was correspondence back and forth between Cardinal Mahony and his top assistants and others after a priest was accused.”

"We know a lot more about his conduct and his words now than we ever have, and I believe that's going to make for a much more thorough deposition," said De Marco, ahead of the deposition he was scheduled to lead.

The archdiocese had fought for years against the documents' being made public. But a judge ordered the release of the material – more than 12,000 pages that detail the extent of sexual abuse within the archdiocese dating back to the 1930s.

“I find these files to be brutal and painful reading,” Archbishop Jose Gomez said in rebuking Mahony, his predecessor.

Still, Gomez supports Mahony on his journey to Rome, where he will join the papal conclave in the Sistine Chapel to choose the next pope. In a letter to priests within the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Gomez asked them “to pray for Cardinal Mahony as he fulfills this sacred duty as Cardinal Elector.”

“I am confident that Cardinal Mahony’s accomplishments and experience in the areas of immigration, social justice, sacred liturgy, and the role of the laity in the Church will serve the College of Cardinals well,” Gomez said.

‘The children are not traumatized’

The case of the Rev. Nicolas Aguilar-Rivera is a microcosm of the larger abuse crisis within the church. It will be at the heart of the deposition.

At a time when the archdiocese was widening its base within the ever-growing Latino community in Southern California, Aguilar-Rivera came to the United States from Mexico, in March 1987. Aguilar-Rivera’s bishop in Mexico had asked the Los Angeles archdiocese to take him in.

The archdiocese welcomed him and found a spot for him in two parishes where parents trusted him with their children, unsupervised.

“He even used his status as a newcomer, his need to learn English, as his ruse for getting children alone," said Terry McKiernan, founder of the church watchdog group BishopAccountability.org. "It’s one of the most extreme combinations of devout Catholic people very open to a priest, very respectful of him, and the callousness and carelessness of hierarchy on both sides of the border about the dangers that this priest posed."

McKiernan added, “This is a man who was a total predator, whose entire life and being seemed to be focused on abusing children.”

Once in the United States, Aguilar-Rivera was first sent to work at Our Lady of Guadalupe, a church with a largely Mexican-American population in East Los Angeles. The bishop for that area, Juan Arzube, Mahony’s vicar general for the San Gabriel Region, had once been accused of molestation and often lobbied on behalf of molesting priests, arguing they deserved to be forgiven, the documents show.

Arzube denied molesting any children himself, but admitted under deposition to being alone with altar boys on many occasions in his rectory apartment. His name was part of a massive civil lawsuit settled with accusers in 2007.

Arzube’s cavalier attitude toward sexual abuse is summed up in a 1980 document in which he lobbied for reinstatement of a priest who had been stripped of his duties, for a second time, because he molested altar boys. “How many priests are there completely guiltless over a period of 10 years?” said Arzube, who died on Christmas Day in 2007 at age 89.

The first inkling of Aguilar-Rivera’s alleged ­actions in America came on Friday January 8, 1988, when two families – “all trustworthy people” – informed their pastor that they believed their children had been molested. The priest, in turn, told Thomas Curry, the vicar of clergy and Mahony’s second in command.

One incident “happened at Christmas when Father visited the other family,” Curry told Mahony in a letter dated January 10, 1988. “There was a good deal of drinking, and the family asked him to stay. He slept in the room with the children and is supposed to have gotten into bed with one of the boys that night.”

The principal of the boys’ school, Curry noted, had been informed of the accusations and “will be obliged to report it to police.”

But the church didn’t respond by first alerting police. Instead, Curry met with Aguilar-Rivera at the church the day after the allegations were made, a Saturday morning, and informed him that a police investigation would be launched.

“I offered to find a place for him to live until he could make other arrangements, but he volunteered that he would stay with his sister here and leave for Mexico on Monday or Tuesday of this week,” Curry wrote Mahony.

“… He asked that his bishop not be told, and I said that would not be possible. I told him the charges as I knew them, although I did not give the names of the families. He denied all, although he admitted that there was a good deal of drinking at Christmas. I told him that it was likely the accusations would be reported to the police and that he was in a good deal of danger.”

The documents show no suggestion on Curry’s or Mahony’s part that Aguilar-Rivera stay in the United States, cooperate with authorities and face the allegations.

Armed with the information, Aguilar-Rivera skipped town before police were notified on Monday, apparently by the school principal. That day, a detective asked an official within the archdiocese if Aguilar-Rivera intended to flee to Mexico.

“I said I was not sure,” said the official, who is not named in the documents. “I also said that Nicolas knew that it would probably be reported to the police, and that I had explained that some people were bound to report.”

Law enforcement took the allegations seriously and launched an investigation, even accusing the church of not fully cooperating with its efforts – an accusation that would eventually go public in a story in the Los Angeles Times.

One document says that a boy’s relative “had heard” that cops had accused church officials of a cover-up. “The family does not want any trouble,” said the memo dated January 21, 1988. “They want [Aguilar-Rivera] to receive help and that he not be able to do this again.”

The memo added, “The children are not traumatized.”

Five days later, police pushed for a list of altar boys at St. Agatha’s, the second parish where Aguilar-Rivera worked. This request sent archdiocese officials into a frenzy.

Curry wrote Mahony that he believed the church should not cooperate. “We have no evidence that Father Aguilar-Rivera was involved with altar boys as such,” Curry wrote on January 26, 1988. “All the boys involved were members of families he was friendly with in Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the alleged abuse took place while he was visiting these families or while they were visiting him.”

The pastor at St. Agatha, Curry continued, had no knowledge of abuse on his premises and “his concern is that if the police come and interview the boys, the matter will spread around the parish. The parish there is a black-Hispanic one, and he finds his situation as an Anglo pastor a very delicate one.”

“The whole issue of our records is a very sensitive one, and I am reluctant to give any list to the police,” Curry concluded. “We are being friendly but firm.”

At the bottom of the typed letter is a handwritten message from Mahony. “We cannot give such a list for no cause whatsoever,” he scrawled on the page, initializing it with “RMM.”

He underlined “cannot” for extra emphasis.

None of the archdiocese officials were ever charged with obstruction of justice.

Police eventually got the altar boy list, with no help from the archdiocese. Investigators learned the extent of Aguilar-Rivera’s alleged crimes by interviewing boys ranging in age from about 9 to 13.

In all, police said, 26 boys were molested in just nine months, many of them repeatedly. Aguilar-Rivera would eventually be charged in a felony complaint relating to 10 boys, with 19 counts of committing a lewd act with a child.

A Los Angeles Times reporter asked the archdiocese for comment at the time; its public statement stands in direct contrast to what the newly released documents reveal. “He was asked to stay in the country to face the accusations against him, but he chose to leave,” said Joseph Battaglia, the spokesman for the archdiocese.

In the article, police said the church was being less than forthcoming with investigators; a father of two of the alleged victims said simply, “The church shouldn’t be telling lies.”

With the allegations now in the open, the tone of archdiocese officials shifted. Three days later, Curry wrote Aguilar-Rivera’s bishop in Mexico and included a copy of the Los Angeles Times’ story.

“May I request that if you know of the whereabouts of Father Aguilar-Rivera,” Curry said, “you urge him most strongly to return here to answer the allegations that have been made against him.”

While on the run, Aguilar-Rivera even called the home of one of the boys he allegedly molested.

“Don’t you know everybody is looking for you?” the mother said, according to a March 11, 1988, memo.

“For what?” Aguilar-Rivera responded.

Aguilar-Rivera would remain in the priesthood in Mexico - for another 21 years. He would be dogged of more molestation allegations while there.

A civil suit filed in the United States in 2010 by a Mexican citizen alleged Aguilar-Rivera raped him when he was a 12-year-old altar boy in Mexico. The suit alleges Mahony and a Mexican cardinal conspired to hide Aguilar-Rivera between the two countries with full knowledge of his alleged pedophilia, putting an untold number of children at risk. Mahony has denied the allegations.

Aguilar-Rivera was convicted in Mexico in 2003 of a misdemeanor sex abuse charge, but was allowed to walk free while the case was under appeal, according to the Dallas Morning News.

He remains on Mexico’s federal prosecutor’s Most Want List wanted on charges of rape and indecent assault.

Aguilar-Rivera was finally stripped of his duties in 2009 by the Vatican, which approved his removal from “clerical state, a priest who has been accused of the sexual abuse of minors in Mexico and the United States,” the Catholic News Agency reported on July 31, 2009.

Attorney De Marco said it’s disgusting church authorities did nothing to stop him.

“He was able to walk around with the authority of the collar in a country where that authority carries more significance than it does here,” De Marco said. “How could anyone ever justify that 21-year delay? This man molested 26 children in nine months in the United States. How many more were there over 21 years?”

Aguilar-Rivera, now 71, is believed to be alive, a free man in Mexico.

Mahony prays for humiliation

Mahony, who turns 77 next week, was appointed archbishop of Los Angeles by Pope John Paul II in 1985, overseeing the archdiocese until 2011 when he retired. In 1991, he became a cardinal, the highest-ranking Catholic clergy below the pope.

McKiernan, who launched BishopAccountability.org in 2003 to keep track of the widespread church abuse, said the recently released documents show the scope and magnitude of Mahony’s and Curry’s efforts in “intentionally evading the authorities.”

“We didn’t have evidence of that before. It’s actually more stark,” he said. “You can tell from these documents Mahony was trying to keep abused priests away from police. ­… The document record is a disgraceful one.”

Curry stepped down earlier this month as the regional bishop of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties and “publicly apologized for his decisions while serving as vicar for clergy,” archbishop Gomez said in announcing the resignation.

Mahony has said he has long acknowledged mistakes in the 1980s and that he improved the reporting mechanisms of priestly abuse in the years that followed.

He has recently taken to his personal blog, scribing an array of posts about praying for humiliation.

“… I am for the first time realizing that I should be praying for the very things from which I cringe, the disgrace I abhor, the fool that I seem,” he blogged on February 15.

In a post this week, he asked followers for “your prayers and your encouragements in my own life to handle all of my mistakes, omissions, and commissions as God asks, and as Jesus and Mary lived out: to take in what swirls around me, to hold it, to carry it, to transform it and to give it back as grace, blessing and gift.”

De Marco, the attorney conducting the deposition, said Mahony should feel one emotion far greater than humiliation: shame.

Amid calls for Mahony to not travel to Rome, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles remains steadfast in its support of his trip, saying canon law dictates that he attend.

Catholics United, a liberal-leaning group that pushes for social justice within the church, and SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) said they delivered a petition with close to 10,000 signatures to Saint Charles Borromeo Church in North Hollywood on Saturday, asking for Mahony not to attend the conclave.

"His participation in the conclave would only bring clouds of shame at a time that should bring springs of hope. Cardinal Mahony, please, stay home," said Chris Pumpelly, Catholics United's communications director.

There is no indication he will.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: California • Catholic Church • Mexico • Pope • Pope Benedict XVI • Vatican

soundoff (459 Responses)
  1. YeahRight
    February 23, 2013 at 11:34 am |
  2. Scott

    The Mackerel Snapper "church's" leadership should be charge under the RICO act for such filth as this.


    February 23, 2013 at 11:32 am |
  3. Gus

    The whole RC religion is a disgrace to humanity. Good news is that Catholicism is dying out and soon will be short of funds. Those cross-dressing priests won't even be able to afford to patch their fine silk dresses soon.

    February 23, 2013 at 11:31 am |
  4. Science

    Adam had to poke himself hard to create Eve , creepy !

    February 23, 2013 at 11:31 am |
  5. TheMirrorMan

    <iframe width="800" height="533" src="http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m6u5ztoWVY1r8swqdo1_1280.jpg&quot;

    February 23, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  6. Over 40,000 denominations of insanity

    Some believe that celibacy is appropriate for certain people, or for certain positions. It's ridiculous. Celibacy is unnatural and will continue to cause problems for the religious institutions that employ it.

    Many of the people from these same institutions advocate against abortion, but don't understand the realistic benefit of the morning after pill or even basic contraception; their unrealistic wishful thinking is causing the death of many at the hands of disease. Realistically, many abortions could be avoided if a morning-after pill would not is not viewed as such an evil option. Many of these same people bring children into the world at a high pace, and then would prefer that the rest of society take over and educate their children in their particular brand of religion when they don't plan well and don't want to violate their silly beliefs.

    Recently we learned of the head of LCMS chastising a minister of that church for participating in a joint service for the victims of the Newtown school shooting.

    One sect calls homosexuality an abomination while the next one in the same denomination is already performing gay marriage.

    One sect, the Westboro Baptist Church believes Americans are being killed at war because America is too kind to "fags".

    One sect believes that Jesus and Satan were brothers and that Christ will return to Jerusalem AND Jackson County, Missouri.

    On sect believes women to be subservient, while another sect in the same denomination promotes equality between the sexes.

    Conflicted right from the very beginning, Christianity continues to splinter and create divisions and more extremism as it goes.

    Has anything improved with Christianity since 200+ years ago?

    Thomas Jefferson, POTUS #3 (from Notes on the State of Virginia):

    Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.

    James Madison, POTUS #4, chief architect of the U.S. Constitution & the Bill of Rights (from A Memorial and Remonstrance delivered to the Virginia General Assembly in 1785):

    During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.

    John Adams, POTUS #2 (in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, 09/03/1816):

    I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved – the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced! With the rational respect that is due to it, knavish priests have added prostitutions of it, that fill or might fill the blackest and bloodiest pages of human history.

    Ben Franklin (from a letter to The London Packet, 3 June 1772):

    If we look back into history for the character of present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practised it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England, blamed persecution in the Roman church, but practised it against the Puritans: these found it wrong in the Bishops, but fell into the same practice themselves both here and in New England.

    Thomas Paine (from The Age of Reason):

    All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

    February 23, 2013 at 11:27 am |
  7. TheMirrorMan
    February 23, 2013 at 11:24 am |
  8. Lacrimae Rerum

    That's right, CNN, stir the pot again to boost your numbers. What other juicy headlines do you have up your sleeve? While you're cheering on the stone-throwers, there are sweeping changes being made within the system. But will anyone ever hear about it?

    February 23, 2013 at 11:24 am |
    • Bostontola

      True that CNN is sensationalistic and an attention wh0re but this is an important story worthy of attention and discussion.

      February 23, 2013 at 11:28 am |
    • Ed

      One sweeping change that should be made is to not allow Mahoney to vote on anything ever again. It's a real disgrace to the Church to have him going to Rome to vote on the next Pope.

      February 23, 2013 at 11:28 am |
    • Hybris

      Sweeping changes? Like what? It seems the reason nobody hears about these 'sweeping changes' is because they don't exist.

      February 23, 2013 at 11:29 am |
    • Gus

      The whole RC religion is a disgrace to humanity. Good news is that Catholicism is dying out and soon will be short of funds. Those cross-dressing priests won't even be able to afford to patch their fine silk dresses soon.

      February 23, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • LinCA

      @Lacrimae Rerum

      You said, "That's right, CNN, stir the pot again to boost your numbers. What other juicy headlines do you have up your sleeve? "
      CNN is a company that aims to earn money. By getting people to read their articles they can charge for advertising. It's basic capitalism.

      You said, "While you're cheering on the stone-throwers, there are sweeping changes being made within the system."
      Those "sweeping changes" only came about because they were caught red handed. Until those responsible for the heinous acts that necessitated those changes are caught and punished, they are not done.

      You said, "But will anyone ever hear about it?"
      Yes. They have been detailed. Mostly as being wholly insufficient.

      February 23, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • Brother Maynard

      Lacrimae Rerum sez:
      ".. there are sweeping changes being made within the system:"
      Yea those 'changes' coming in a glacial speed too.
      It only took them 350 years to apologize to Galileo, for what? Being dead on right about the solar system.
      I firmly believe there is no greater waste of a life than the catholic clergy, espcially in the Vatican.

      February 23, 2013 at 11:53 am |
  9. PJ

    This is so very shameful. Fortunately most Catholics ignore the Pope and his Bishops. The people are the Church...not the hierarchy....fortunately. Even the peope can perform the Eucharist when one does the proper research. So, perhaps we should just dump the Vatican.

    February 23, 2013 at 11:24 am |
    • Bostontola

      Dump the Vatican? It's been done. Just become another flavor of Christian.

      February 23, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • realbuckyball

      Ah yes. The "eucharist". The meal which Sal of Tarsus took straight from Mithraism in Tarsus, and grafted onto the cult. No Jew would EVER even consider drinking blood, (an abomination). Saul needed sometjhing to compete with the Greek Mystery cults, and he found it in Zoroastrian Mithraism, in Tarsus. So you get the "thanksgiving feast". Straight from Tarsus.

      February 23, 2013 at 11:27 am |
    • Will S

      Urban Legend. The cult of Mithra borrowed from Christianity. Look it up. World Catholic population has increased yearly (Georgetown) and now numbers over a billion.

      February 23, 2013 at 11:53 am |
  10. Nan

    If you believe in God you believe that He/She/It is perfect. Religion, that which people have constructed to explain God, is decidedly NOT perfect and never will be. To believe that one faith is the one true religion is naive. The church has been corrupt even though there have been reformers (both within and without the church) down through the centuries who tried to rid it of corruption and abuse. They corrected some abuses of power but created other abuses and problems. I don't believe we can just give it all up but must continue to try to make things better, though failing, because we are imperfect people. I think that a merciful God will forgive when He/She/It sees that we have not given up. No one church has the answer. There are bits and pieces of truths scattered over many faiths. For one organization to call itself the one true way to salvation is evil. I believe, as Lord Acton stated: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    February 23, 2013 at 11:23 am |
  11. maryanne

    The whole church should be deposed and then disposed.

    February 23, 2013 at 11:23 am |
  12. TheMirrorMan


    February 23, 2013 at 11:22 am |
  13. timz

    Cardinal Mahoney now claims to be a "scapegoat" in the Catholic Church's child abuse scandal. He's not a victim here . . . he's a perpetrator.

    February 23, 2013 at 11:21 am |
  14. Bostontola

    This kind of organizational corruption should not be tolerated, especially in an organization as large and powerful as the RCC. I am an atheist that has respect for religion and its role in society today and historically. This kind of corruption reminds us all of the dark side of religion, being led and populated with people inevitably will lead to some corruption, but it should not be tolerated.

    February 23, 2013 at 11:20 am |
  15. Arlene

    What a crock of appalling b.s. Again, I ask myself, WHY do I stay in the Catholic Church??? Corrupt, arrogant, ignorant hierarchy that looks the other way when it comes to their criminal brother priests. I guess I hold out because Jesus is the Church and I've got to believe that He is just as appalled as I am

    February 23, 2013 at 11:19 am |
    • Bostontola

      Indoctrination as a child is a powerful thing.

      February 23, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • ..

      One reason I left the RCC is the inability to stop corruption and pedophilia from the local level on up, and the ability to cover their asses from the local level on up.

      February 23, 2013 at 11:29 am |
  16. zaphed

    Why is religion the center of news any more? Who cares who those lunetic religious crowds elect. They cam elect any ayatollah they want. Please fo not publicize the news about cults.

    February 23, 2013 at 11:14 am |
  17. Kevin

    Catholicism is true allegorically, not literally, which is why I am stll converting to it even I am rationalist. The faith is a religious allegory of secular truths. For example, the resurrction is not literal but metaphorical for literal existence after death since when the body is intact and healthy, I don't feel pain. But, when the body breaks down, (I am injured), then I feel pain. Death is the ultimate breaking down of the body and thus, I have to have a soul since there has to be an eternal "me" that feels pain forever since there has to be an eternal "me" that feels the pain forever, and with my body is breaking down in death, there is no healing to relieve me from the pain. However, since I can never be destroyed since I am eternal, the pain will not be overwhelming since by defintion, I can not be overwhelmed and destroyed.

    February 23, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • Kev, buddy

      Try posting again when the magic mushrooms effects wear off, OK.

      February 23, 2013 at 11:21 am |
    • Kevin

      If you do not believe the resurrection to be the literal truth, you cannot convert to Catholicism. Ask your priest. They believe it to be true.

      February 23, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • Kev, buddy

      Well OK, looks like your hooked, just do not let them have anything to do with your kids, untill your kids are old enough to think for themselves. Thanks.

      February 23, 2013 at 11:39 am |
  18. jhysterio

    Wasn't Mahony in Police Academy?

    February 23, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  19. don

    Vatican has no extradition laws requiring him to come back.

    February 23, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  20. ellamvaram

    It's a shame that there are manuy more, including myself, who don't wish to come public for the sake of the Church Universal and what it stands for. It's much larger than the Pope or the Priests. We need some drastic change within the thinking of the hierarchy of the RC Church; I mean a "revolution' of a sort within the Church, to purify and stablize the Holy Church of Jesus Christ. May be, the new Pope is the answer; to bring a new awakening so that the faithful will have some confidence and trust in those who are called to be spiritual leaders of the Church.

    February 23, 2013 at 11:12 am |
    • realbuckyball

      Where exactly has your Jebus been all this time ? If it's really his church, he would have done something LONG ago.
      In fact, Jebus has been dead for 2000 years, and all the cults and man-made fantasies of all of religion is simply delusional.

      February 23, 2013 at 11:16 am |
    • ..

      Obviously, the RCC can not self-investigate any longer. At the first hint of abuse, outside authorities must be called in. The RCC has been allowed to cover up abuse for too long.

      February 23, 2013 at 11:23 am |
    • Ed

      There was a revolution in the Church. It pretty much started with Martin Luther nailing his theses on the cathedral door. That's why we have Protestants. Don't start another religion. If you're religious just join the revolution that's been underway for hundreds of years.

      February 23, 2013 at 11:32 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.